Can you see the buoy? The tiny speck in the middle of the picture that you think might be dirt on your computer screen? In the middle of the ocean? In the midst of the choppiness? Can you see it? Seriously, it's a speck on the horizon from this distance. A fleck of black in the middle of the picture.
I want to tell you a story, and your job is to see how many spiritual applications you can make for your own life because I can make a book's worth, but this is just a blog:)
I love the ocean. Love. Adore. I am perpetually drawn to her glory in pictures, in movies, from my childhood years to this very moment. It calls to everything inside of me, to how God made me. I would love nothing more than to see every coastline God has made on this blue earth, just to sit at their edges and marvel and wonder and feel so small, yet so loved.
The ocean's vastness speaks to my soul like the presence of God. It's deep yet accessible, unchartable yet discoverable, mysterious yet knowable, seemingly unpredictable at times, but always constant in what it is. It is powerful. Very powerful. Yet gracious and majestic and giving. It takes and gives life. It demands respect lest the complacent fall. It is the closest earthly example I have found to what experiencing God's presence in full might be like.
And lest you mistake me for worshipping the ocean itself at this point, let me be clear that I'm certain God's literal presence will be so much more than even this mere, watery creation can compare. But if you study her, if you listen, I think she sings the Hallelujah Chorus of His glory.
And she is a creation through which Creator God continues to teach me little lessons about Who He is. I have always loved the ocean. Loved it deeply.
Until recently, I have only ever been able to enjoy it from the shoreline. I learned to boogie board and body surf on the Atlantic coast in what I now realize is relatively safe, reliable surf if you can even truly call it surf. I learned how to read the pull of the undertow and the size of a swell to determine if and when it would break or be strong enough to carry me to shore.
I took some hard hits. I got slammed to the bottom many a time, once even resulted in chipped teeth and a root canal. From these experiences, I learned how pulling your head or arm up at the wrong moment in the middle of a wave could send you tumbling head over heels. I learned how long I could hold my breath when I had to. I learned that some waves are just too powerful. I learned what it meant to know my limits, and I learned also how to push them.
I developed a healthy fear of the power of the ocean from those tumbles and falls.
Fear is good when it's used to weave a curtain of separation from the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle of our life. God should be feared. Like afraid for our lives, terrified fear. This fear is more than awe or reverence, but it is good and necessary because He is holy, and we are not. He is the ONLY Person, thing, etc. we should truly fear at all.
Fear of God's creation is also good when it ingrains reverence into our lives, but that is all it should do: create a reverent space for a Fearfully, Powerful God to be God and Lord of His creation. Fear should not and would not stop me from returning to the ocean after every tumble--returning wiser, stronger, more determined. More reverent. More aware.
And the older I grew, the more of the ocean I desired. I wanted bigger waves. I wanted to swim with the dolphins. I wanted to be out in the middle of the water with only the shoreline a distant shadow on the horizon. I wanted to be surrounded by its presence, engulfed by its vastness.
So when we moved here, to California, a paddle board was the only thing I wanted. I finally lived fifteen minutes from the ocean, and every chance I got, I longed to be by the ocean's edge. It didn't take long before watching surfers and paddle boarders surrounded by dolphins made me desire more than just the coastline. The ocean beckoned me to step out of my boat and onto the water. I didn't have to be just a spectator.
So I took my paddle board to the harbor where it is safe and calm and protected. I learned to balance, to shift my weight in small increments adjusting to the surface of the water. I learned to be flexible and well-balanced, pushing my power and strength through my core into the foundation of the board beneath me. (All those yoga classes for the past three years paid their dividends in full!)
I learned to overcome my fear of falling off. It hasn't happened much, but it has happened, and to be honest, in the harbor I'm never afraid to fall because I know how to swim and swim well. I've also never been one to concern myself with the what ifs of the unknown depth beneath me. All God's creatures fascinate me, even the ones perceived as dangerous. Do I fear them in reverence? Absolutely. But again, that fear doesn't stop me from answering the call of the ocean.
In the harbor, I learned that when it's windy or choppy or rough, you get down on your knees, and that the lower you get on that board, the humbler your stance, the easier it is to stay on the board in strong winds and bigger waves.
It wasn't long until every time I went out in the harbor, I was stronger, faster, more balanced, less fearful, but still diligent to my surroundings. You never let your guard down when you're on the ocean, even in the harbor. You cannot become complacent. The ocean demands fear at all times, a fervent attention, a harnessed fear, a heightened awareness.
And let me tell you, my first time out around the circuit of that smooth, calm harbor, I went slow. Painfully slow. My heart pounded, and every muscle in my body shook. I learned to breath deep and focus that breath into the muscles, willing my heart rate to slow so I wouldn't pass out, and when I didn't think I was strong enough, I dropped to my knees, and waited for my surroundings to calm, yet always paddling forward. One slow, determined stroke at a time.
I spent many weeks in the harbor. I grew stronger. I grew content. I grew confident. I grew comfortable.
The ocean still called.
One day I had made up my mind it was time to venture out to that buoy in the picture. The harbor entrance is over to its right, just beyond the right edge of the picture, and the buoy is about a quarter of a mile out from the end of the jetty that protects the harbor. The ocean called.
And I'm not kidding you, the day I rounded the bend to set my board on a course to the ocean out of the harbor, I literally heard the sound of the sea lions barking. Beckoning. Where were they?!?!? I paddled a little harder, a little faster. Would I miss them? Would they be gone when I got there?
I could see the end of the jetty, buoy in the distance, and there at the edge of the protected harbor and the humanly unpredictable swells of the ocean were happy sea lions barking and swimming and splashing at the end of the jetty, playing at the corner of the jetty rocks where the ocean waves crashed lightly.
They were ten feet away. I had dropped to my knees so I could enjoy the scene. I sat back on my heels and let the ocean waves rock me back and forth at the edge of that jetty for quite some time. Sea lions! Real, uncaged, wild and free sea lions. I wanted to touch them so badly, but I knew better. Besides, here I was at the edge once more with the ocean calling. That buoy was calling.
I turned from the sea lions, rose up only to my knees, and set my course for that buoy.
And my heart was pounding so hard. It throbbed large in the back of my throat threatening to choke my breath. My stomach twisted tight into knots that threatened to be vomited. I was keenly aware of adrenaline screaming through my temples and my blood. I was terrified.
Terrified of falling, terrified of what lay beneath. Terrified of the mass of water flowing around and underneath me. Terrified.
The swells. Oh the swells of the ocean! Their immensity. Their mass. Their power. It was tempting to fall down prone on my board and weep. Cling to the board, stop paddling, turn around, go back to safety--but the ocean kept calling.
I made it to that buoy, turned myself around and paddled back as fast as I could. I never actually stood up again until back in the harbor, and even then the adrenaline rushing through my body had me trembling from inside out. My muscles felt like jello. My heart was tempted to burst.
But oh the joy!!!! The exhilaration! I cannot put into words the lightness my soul felt. The pure ecstasy of what God had just helped me do! And in that environment, in those swells, in that open water, that's exactly Who had made it to the buoy. The sheer will-power of Christ in me. Yes, I had prepared, practiced, and strengthened--probably my whole life looking back--but even those training grounds were God's providence.
No. There is nothing of me good enough, strong enough, or controlled enough that would enable me to go to that buoy. That was God. The call of my God who was heightening my abilities and was equipping me in the very process of paddling to that buoy, in the very midst of those swells.
I would have never gone had I not been called.
Funny thing is once you experience how God works in the face of overwhelming circumstances, something inside you has to try it again. Test Him again. Do the adventure with Him again. Maybe that's the only healthy addiction there is--to follow God into uncharted waters.
So the next time, I was still equally terrified, but not as unsure. I trusted more. Now the call was to stand. Stand and paddle to the buoy and back. I could always drop back to my knees if it became too much. So I stood. I stood and paddled to the buoy and back, and oh the joy, the rush, the exhilaration of trusting God in the unknown!!!!
Now after a few more times, after you've grown a bit more comfortable, something inside you goes looking for the unknown, you're looking for the difficult, the uncharted, the adventure because you're addicted to the rush, the pure joy, the sense of overwhelming worship that washes over you when your feet come safely back to dry land. God is fun! He is awesome to hang out with, to do life with, yet when you answer His call, you can't help but completely fear Him as well. Fear Who He is, what He can do and be terrified of the process, yet trusting His awesomeness at the same time, trusting that even if a giant, great white shark came and ripped you off that board, you could smile and know that was His plan, His doing, what He allowed.
I'm not saying be stupid; I'm saying be wise, harness faith and all the tools God has given on the training grounds of life, but don't let fear of the unknown rob you of the joy of living the life God calls you to live! It is pure, unadulterated JOY!
And it keeps you looking to Him for more because only He can provide the healthy rush. Life has taught me everything done in my own strength, timing, and power leads me to a dangerous pit, an unhealthy addiction to pride, control, and self-promotion. There's no joy to be had there.
So instead I keep listening and seeking to answer the call.
Today, the call was to get out of the harbor and put in at the shoreline and paddle out to that buoy. Because as scary as those shoreline waves appear, I know that if I don't need the harbor, if I don't need the calm waters, the safe place to get my balance, then the world is my playground. Every coastline can become a new opportunity of exploration and adventure if I can learn to paddle out past the breakers.
So today I waded into the knee high waves at the shoreline, feeling the pull of the tide wrap sand around my ankles like tentacles sucking me out, but I wasn't going under. I jumped on the board, pulled up to my knees, and paddled out hard through the constant rise and fall of the shoreline swells. And my heart raced and my throat closed and my stomach tightened as I paddled out to that buoy, that speck on the horizon. And the choppiness was daunting, but I did it! I made it to the buoy, smiled at the sea lions who raised their heads in apathetic recognition and turned around to paddle back.
Before paddling back though, I sat back on my heels in the middle of the ocean and smiled, bobbing up and down on the swells, watching the rays of sunlight break through the clouds on the horizon over the mountainside. And I closed my eyes and breathed deep the joy of the gift of the Lord.
I had turned my board to face the shoreline, to begin paddling back when I heard the whisper of the call of the ocean once more. I turned my head slightly to gaze out and back over my left shoulder, well past the jetty wall at the end of the harbor--who knows how far out--to where a green buoy bobbed and beckoned in the distance. A very far distance.
And for a second, in my joy I turned to paddle to that buoy, but the call faded and the words of my husband came to mind, "If you want to go to that buoy, I want you to wear one of those life preserver belts." And so I stopped.
God reminded me I wasn't prepared--today--for that green buoy. The call was still very real, but not now, not today.
No, it was time to paddle back to shore, but instead of on my knees, I could try standing up. I could attempt to strengthen my balance and reaction time on the open water. I could begin to learn the feeling of the shift of the waves as they pulled and pushed, carrying me into shore. I could begin to learn the ways of the waves. I could attempt to paddle surf back into shore. The call of the green buoy was not to be answered today, but these things I could do.
So with heart racing, throat closing, stomach tightening once again, I rose slowly to my feet in the middle of the ocean, and I paddled back to shore. My legs were trembling the same as blades of grass in the breeze. I willed them to hold me steady. I trusted my God to take me back to the shore, and I pressed that trust through my legs, hard into the surface of the board.
Paddle. Balance. Breathe. Bend. If you fall, you know you can swim. If you fall, remember to grab your sunglasses. Paddle. Balance. Breathe. Bend.
I paddle surfed that board all the way back into shore. Oh the rush, the exhilaration, the anticipation of the next adventure out!
"My God is so great, so strong and so mighty, there's nothing my God cannot do!" My heart sang. Nothing He can't accomplish through me, with me, in me. Oh the joy of being used by God, of answering His call!
The green buoy still beckons in the far off distance beyond the jetty wall, but I think I have some sea legs to build first, some surfing to learn, and some safety gear to add before answering that call. All in God's time. He does not birth a dream, a calling, that He does not intend to bring to life. (I stole that beauty from my friends over at BeStillBeFree.)
How the Lord goes about bringing that calling to life just might look very different from what I'd imagine though. So I'm learning to sink down, be still, and be free to grow in the space and time and circumstances that God allows, that He has ordained for this season of my life.
I'm paddling with God wherever He leads, and It. Is. Good. THIS is joy realized. Joy living.
What is it that calls you? Beckons to your soul? What buoy is on your horizon? Where is your training ground? With what have you been trained? Already equipped? Where is your harbor, your testing grounds, your safe place? Where or what is your ocean? What is it that's too big for you? Too overwhelming? What is your board? What is your foundation, the thing that keeps you afloat? Where is God calling you next? Does He have you in a season of preparation for that journey? Or is He calling you to go ahead and paddle out? Open your eyes. Be aware. God is speaking to you, all around you; He's calling you to something new.
Live Joy my friends! Live life with joy. Live life with God.